Wes Anderson’s second stop motion animated feature is a delightful, slightly weird gift that he’s made just for you.
Isle of Dogs tells a story, via the medium of stop motion animation, set on the Japanese archipelago 20 years in the future. The area has been overrun with dogs and following an outbreak of snout fever Mayor Kobayashi has the idea of establishing an exile colony on an island used to dump the city’s garbage. The dogs adapt the best they can to a miserable life in a toxic rubbish dump forming alliances, sharing stories and fighting over food until the day Mayor Kobayashi’s ward, a 12 year old boy called Atari, hijacks a plane and comes to the island to look for his dog Spots.
The story is pretty straightforward but out of it Anderson has crafted a piece of pure joy. Incredible puppets and an amazing voice cast give the dogs personalities that pop off the screen, particularly the lead dogs Chief and Rex voiced by Bryan Cranston and Ed Norton. Before Trash Island, Chief was a stray and he chafes against Rex’s attempts to organise and lead the group. Cranston throws himself into the role with glee and his Chief is wonderful to watch.
The dogs are all given distinct characteristics, even when their roles are small. Scarlett Johansson has a lovely part as the beautiful Nutmeg who is mythologised, wrongly, as a femme fatale by the dog pack.
The story switches between Trash Island where the dog pack attempt to help the little pilot find his dog Spots and the mainland where a group of activists lead by American exchange student Tracy are trying to get to the bottom of Mayor Kobayashi’s anti-dog agenda. The human parts of the story don’t quite live up to the dog focused parts but there is still much to enjoy in the portrayal of the Mayor and his shadowy cabal of evil cat lovers. (Seriously though, after the “incident” in Grand Budapest Hotel and now this, what is Wes Anderson’s deal with cats?)
Anderson uses his skills so beautifully: as well as the puppetry, there are some fantastic drawings early on which exist purely to enchant the audience. Watching this film feels like being handed a gift by Anderson; a gift he made just to delight you. The imagery is beautiful, it is funny, it is inventive and like all Anderson gifts, slightly weird. Consider me delighted.
Isle of Dogs was shown as part of Glasgow Film Festival. It is on general release in the UK on 30 March: BIG RECOMMEND.